It's no secret that Halloween ignites strong debates among Christian parents. Every fall, I can safely bet that someone from church will ask me if my family "celebrates" Halloween, and the truth is that I actually enjoy the question. My answer is always, "We 'celebrate,' but we don't celebrate Halloween." In other words, we make Halloween an occasion to celebrate our family without supporting the "darker side" of the holiday. Over the years, we have come up with some great activities to strengthen our family ties in late October that you can use whether you participate in Halloween or not.
1. Mystery Bowling
My parents are responsible for inventing something that's become a fall tradition for my family, the game of Mystery Bowling. They figured that since many other families were out trick-or-treating, the bowling alley would be quite empty. They were right. So a few days before Halloween, they would sit down with a homemade bowling card to map out a goofy game of Mystery Bowling.
To create your own game of Mystery Bowling, first think of a different bowling stance to be used in each of the ten bowling frames. For example, our family has bowled some frames backwards, some frames with our weak hand, and some frames tiptoeing up to the lane while holding the ball above our heads like Fred Flintstone. Next, give each frame a score requirement. For instance, you might require your family members to knock down three pins in frame one while frame two might require six or seven pins. Any bowler who doesn't meet the pin requirement must choose a silly costume piece to wear during the next frame: a hat, a skirt, even a big curly wig. If a bowler does meet the pin requirement he might earn a piece of candy or a bag of chips. I can still remember how hilarious it was to watch my father twirl down the lane with a bowling ball in one hand and a lace doily on his head. Our game of Mystery Bowling has allowed us to enjoy the positive parts of the holiday?the candy, the dress up, and the silliness?without worrying about the unsafe aspects. On occasion, we were even able to share the purpose of our game with others at the bowling alley.
2. Family Film Festival
Another activity your family might enjoy is making a family movie. Start by choosing an imaginary setting for your movie. For example, your family might want to act out a cowboy story in the Old West or a futuristic tale on another planet. Next, think about some of the props and costumes that you could find around your home.
For instance, this could be the perfect time to make use of those old clothes in the attic or to dust off the motorcycle helmets for use as astronaut equipment. In one of our family favorites, we even dressed up our dog as a horse. Use your imagination. Then, as a family, write your script. Assign each family member his or her own part and let everyone offer input about what their lines should be. Our family likes to do the writing little by little, writing and taping one scene at a time so we don't forget our parts. We just stop the camera after each scene is taped, and then begin to write and practice the next one. If you don't have your own video camera to work with, borrow one from a friend or your local library. Remember that your movie doesn't have to be perfect; the finished project will always be a hit, bloopers and all. You might even want to invite friends and relatives to view the finished project. Our family still watches a movie we made almost 10 years ago.
3. Nature Walk
If you have less time available for your activity, consider a 30 or 60 minute nature hike with your family. First, choose a local park or trail that your family would enjoy exploring. Then, embark on a scavenger hunt for the most beautiful leaf, the smoothest rock, the most interesting stick, the perfect pinecone, or any other desirable treasures you might think of. Bring a paper bag or cloth sack for each family member to put his collectibles in. If you have a digital or instant camera, you can photograph things that can't be taken home with you, such as the prettiest view or the ugliest bug. If you have more time to spare, pack a picnic to take with you on the walk or bring along a species guide for birds or plants to help identify your findings. When you return home, have everyone share their entries for each category and vote on the winners. You'll be amazed at what each person has found. It might even be fun to display the winners for a period of time as a reminder of your hike.
4. Neighborly Needs
If your family would rather spend some time getting to know your neighbors, a great alternative tradition to trick-or-treating is a "Neighborly Needs Day." In late October, choose a seasonal chore that would be helpful to perform as a courtesy for your neighbors. For instance, your family might consider cleaning windows, raking leaves, or washing cars together. Then pre-select a manageable area of your neighborhood and pre-visit each of the neighbors you would like to volunteer for. It is best if you visit as a family so that it's obvious that parents will be involved in the project. Explain to your neighbors that rather than trick-or-treating this year, your family would like to serve each neighbor by helping with a chore. Ask them if it would be all right to come by on a specific day to complete your task. Assure them that you will bring all the necessary supplies: rakes, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, etc. Be aware that your neighbors will be astounded at first, but that your family's servant spirit will form an unforgettable bond with them for years to come. After a day of helping your neighbors, take your family out for ice cream or pizza and talk about how it feels to give to other people.
5. Pumpkin Party
You can also include others in your celebration by hosting a non-traditional pumpkin carving party. Invite several families from your church or from the neighborhood to come to your home for pumpkin carving. Ask each person to bring her own pre-hollowed pumpkin to avoid a huge mess and possible injuries. Then, rather than carving ghoulish faces and scary goblins in your pumpkins, choose a Bible verse or an inspirational saying that could be illuminated across your front yard, and assign each pumpkin one letter of the verse. Of course, the verse will vary in length based on the number of people at your party, but part of the fun is deciding what you should write. Some ideas include: "Jesus is Lord," or "Great is the Lord." Your family might even choose to carve out some of the different names for Jesus. Whatever message you decide on, it will look spectacular in your front yard. You might consider raising it off the ground by setting your pumpkins on picnic table benches or folding chairs.
Rather than mess around with candles in all those pumpkins, we've started using Christmas tree lights to illuminate our verse. Once it's lit up, your message is sure to be noticed and will give a new perspective to all who drive by. If you have time during the party, you might also want to read The Pumpkin Patch Parable (Thomas Nelson) by Liz Curtis Higgs. It's a family devotional about pumpkins that you can share with everyone.
Of course, none of these activities need to be reserved for October 31; a celebration of family can take place any time of year. Nevertheless, the stretch between Labor Day picnics and Thanksgiving dinner is a fairly lengthy one, making autumn the perfect time of year to establish a new family tradition. So this fall when someone asks you if your family celebrates Halloween, tell them, "Actually, we celebrate family."
Trina R. Schaetz is a former teacher, a writer and the mother of one. She and her family celebrate fall at their home in Wisconsin.
Copyright © 2001 by the author and Christianity Today.